Priest, doctor team up to shed light on Duterte’s bloody war on drugs

By Federico Segarra

Manila, May 31 (EFE).- A priest and a forensic doctor have teamed up to publish an independent investigation that has shed light on the obscure and bloody war on drugs waged by Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte, who is poised to leave office in one month.

The probe by Flavie Villanueva and Dr. Raquel Fortun has revealed the existence of falsified medical certificates to cover up gunshot deaths and the killing of young people who were not involved in narcotics.

Duterte’s war on drugs, a flagship policy of the controversial president, has claimed the lives of between 27,000-30,000 people, according to a number of NGOs.

Investigations like the one conducted by Father Flavie and Fortun are the only way to dig into the facts of what happened during the policy’s violent enforcement given Duterte’s obstructionism, which is not likely to change following the handover of power to ‘Bongbong’ Marcos, son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, on June 30.

Duterte has previously blocked an investigation by the International Criminal Court on the matter.

In 2016, Father Flavie, 53, set up a number of programs to assist families living in the poorest areas of the Philippines, which were disproportionately affected by Duterte’s war on drugs.

“I immediately realized that this was targeting mainly the poor,” he tells Efe.

Duterte rose to power in 2016 on the promise of eradicating drugs from the Philippines. In the wake of his elections, dozens of bodies turned up each morning following violent raids in some of Manila’s most impoverished corners.

In the last six years, Father Flavie has provided counseling, bureaucratic and economic help to 253 families through his foundation AJ Kalinga. Many of his cases related to families and orphans left without resources following the killing of a male family figure.

Corazón Molina, whose son Raffy Molina was killed by police aged 24 in 2016, said the priest “helped us when nobody else would.”

The bodies of those killed in the war on drugs are kept in a temporary grave for a period of five years, at which point authorities say they will be dumped in mass graves unless the family is able to pay a price of up to thousands of dollars, an amount equivalent to several months’ wages.

This policy came as a sinister surprise on the five-year mark of the war on drugs last year and helped forge the alliance between Father Flavie and Fortun.

“I vowed no bodies were going to be dumped into a mass grave,” the priest tells Efe.

“From 2021, onwards we received an influx of inquiries from families of the victims.”

When Father Flavie began to search for funding to cover the exhumation of bodies to provide the victims with a dignified burial, he contacted Fortun to carry out forensic analysis and to compare her findings with official reports.

“I met Father Flavie in various forums and I decided to help him. Our agreement was to publicly say that the bodies were being exhumed and cremated,” Fortun tells Efe from her office at the University of the Philippines.

Fortun immediately corroborated falsified death certificates and cases in which relatives were pressured to sign documents precluding them from requesting investigations.

When the pair presented their findings in April, they showed that out of the 46 bodies examined, seven of those whose death was attributed to asphyxiation or pneumonia were actually riddled with bullets.

The doctors behind the falsified documentation, according to Fortun, “are risking their reputation and their names” and play a key role in the state-ordered massacre.

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